Thursday, November 22, 2007

the magical "21st Century"

okay, so i've posted the nicey pictures and we've enjoyed Steve's video. but there is more to say. and i want to preface what i am saying by noting that i am not in this to deride NCTE. it's about making an observation. about how our rhetoric ("our" writ broad, including but operating well beyond NCTE) doesn't reflect our reality (duh) in ironic and even humorous (if not crazy-making) ways.

one must at the very least observe and reflect. and to be clear: i don't usually go to NCTE, and so maybe it's not worth mentioning or maybe my ethos isn't fully established. but wait . . . i did go to NCTE in 2004, and even then, similar issues were troubling me. and, then again, this isn't so much about NCTE as it is about how our (again, "our" expansively construed) grand pronouncements about the state of things are so often, simply, sort of ridiculous in light of the actual conditions these pronouncements are wanting to project. and *i'm all for grand*. performance. but i'm also for, um, performance (in its actual, live state of being, in its status as a live event rather than merely an idea that seems timely).

so we all know that if you work with film or video or even want to show a dumb PowerPoint presentation (okay, ppt can be cool, if used w/ some design principle that goes beyond -- or beneath -- their *flashy* templates) we have to haul our own equipment everywhere. and yes, it's lovely that we can now order equipment in advance. but. um . . . at CCCC's in March, poor XXX (name withheld to protect the, um, innocent) had ordered the projector for his first big film event . . . got to the room . . . discovered the absent setup . . . hustled to find one. eventually had to pay $75.00 to get one from the a.v. group C's had hired to respond to his original request. in 2007. "21st Century"-style.

so, okay. NCTE 2007. for our featured session on the rhetorico-aesthetic uses of film/video to document the nature of writing, we had a projector, and we had a screen. as for sound, we were told -- via flurry of flustery last minute emails -- that nothing could be done. so, XXX2 had to haul his own PA system in so that we'd have sound (and it may be true that Kathy Yancey helped fund the shipment, which is cool of her, as she is always cool), and that was all fine (maybe not so joyous for XXX2, but we had worked it out in advance, as good teachers who are used to fending for themselves have learned to do "in the 21st century"). so we are checking our stuff and realize that there is no light panel/switch to be found. we call our a.v. guy assigned to our room, ask, thinking he'll be able to accommodate our **very simple** request to simply turn out the lights during our screening and bring them back up for our talks.



"right. can't turn out the lights. all on one switch." XXX2 suggests we find a bb gun to shoot out the bulbs (very steampunk!). but alas. no bb guns. and the ceiling is like 150 ft. high.

2007. national convention. look at the convention book, covered with images of desks with superimposed screens on chalkboards (imaged here, on the header) wanting to suggest the hipness of teaching in "the 21st century!" but. um . . . "we can't control the lights."

you wackos with your newfangled ideas.

i don't know. am i complaining about nothing? i don't think so. when i run the Screening Room at Sundance during the festival, my main job as Theater Manager is to orchestrate the "big picture," and i am especially concerned about ambiance. a film event is an event . . . an immersive experience. and in support of the filmmakers who have their work/lives on the line, i do whatever i can to help create an honorific and anticipatory vibe that reflects the serious nature of the event/experience. anyone who works in film will tell you that LIGHTING is key, and the simple act of being able to screen a film IN THE DARK is essential to creating the scene, the potential for "the primacy of the affective in image reception" (via Massumi). the vibe matters.

what's more, most filmmakers are quite aware of how the dark frames the lit images of their film, of how the dark creates the space within which bodies experience the film, its 360 sound, its lightwritten textual/aesthetic meaning. at Sundance, we rehearse how films are introduced and plan the aftereffects -- timing on when (during credits? . . . just after?) it will be most effective to begin to bring the lights back up (and how fast we do so) for the q & a. generally, we rehearse this, but sometimes we rehearse the staging effects for an individual film. sometimes, a filmmaker will make very specific requests regarding this timing/vibe, and we acccommodate. and it's not a seriously complicated technology, the light switch.

once, at a meeting w/ our Sundance superiors, we were reporting on the year's festival and had a few things to say about how to better enhance/ensure/maintain our ambiance. given that we work at the resort, w/ one 164 seat Screening Room and no major celebs/press/insanity just beyond the doors (i.e., we are not in Park City), we imagined their response,

"WHAT? you've got AMBIANCE?!" (at Park City, it's pretty insane, so while they try for ambiance, it's often a scramble to get and preserve it).

but so yeah. we do. it's our thing. and just about every filmmaker, actor, producer, etc. who visits our theater comments upon it (Sam Elliot liked it so much I got a nice big hug from him . . . as he whispered "thank you so much" in that gravelly-sexy voice of his). so yeah. ambiance. experience. event. affect. kairos. it's all part of the rhetorico-aesthetic scene. remember delivery?

so again, i'm not trying to diss NCTE, in particular. i'm more about observing/commenting upon our rhetorical flourishes regarding "21st Century" biz because it sounds kinda sexy, but it's the thing that gives rhetoric a bad name (as in used car salespeople bad rhetoric). it's fantasy, facade, and the sad thing is that the performers are prepared to deliver, but the missing elements keep holding them up.

i'm talking about expansive preparation for *the event* . . . NOT . . . let's patch something together at the last minute for this national convention presentation in the magical "21st Century." oh sure, as teachers, we know the scramble-f0r-it mode. but it's 2007. come on.

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